Dr. Lori Baker, an associate professor of anthropology, uses forensic science techniques to attempt to identify remains of undocumented immigrants buried in unmarked graves near the U.S.-Mexico border. Baker says that hundreds of immigrants die each year while trying to enter the United States, and many are never identified, leaving their families with no information about their fate.
This summer, Baker and a group of undergraduate students will travel to Falfurrias, Texas, to begin exhumations of the roughly 200 unidentified individuals buried in a cemetery there. They will use skeletal features, genetic information and analysis of trace elements in the remains to compile information on each body, then compare their findings to missing persons databases in the United States and Mexico. The summer field school is funded in part by a grant from Baylor’s University Research Committee.
The goal of the research is to identify and repatriate as many of the remains as possible, providing closure to families whose loved ones disappeared on their journeys. The project will also expose undergraduate students to the real world of forensics and anthropology research, experience that will help them as they pursue graduate education or seek jobs after graduation.
Baker’s research has been featured in multiple regional and national news outlets, as well as on the National Geographic Channel program, The Decrypters.